I am not going to tell you exactly how old I am, but I think you can probably guess if I say that I was around when hummus was first discovered. Not when it was first invented, obviously, but around the time (and I might be a teeny sloppy on the exact details) Mollie Katzen whipped up a batch and stuck a Moosewood flag on the summit of the mound and suddenly it was On the Map in the American Kitchen. By the mid-1980s it had become the Miracle Whip of the Politically Correct Kitchen. Unlike the ubiquitous Artichoke Dip, which was irresistably delicious until somebody revealed to you the utterly vile recipe and you realized that what you were consuming at one party alone had probably just lopped a full year off your life expectancy, hummus was virtuous in every conceivable way: Environmentally responsible! Packed with vegetarian/vegan protein! Ethnically chic! Kosher!
Diary, only to you can I confess the degree of Hummus Guilt that I have suffered for decades now, owing to the fact that: I just don’t like it. Hummus tastes to me like a mouthful of paste. Sometimes it’s garlicky, lemony paste. Sometimes it’s roasted red-pepper paste. Sometimes it strikes me as paste with an extra dollop of sawdust tossed in. Sometimes, in the mass-market varieties now available, it seems to have been pureed into a simple glue. I don’t want to get in a fight over whether there is genuinely delicious hummus in the Middle East, where it actually was invented, because I bet there is. But the only delicious hummus I’ve ever had in North American was made by an Iraqi chef who told me his secret was, the garbanzo beans were peeled before being mashed, giving the finished dish a light and wonderful texture that was almost like mousse. And if you could imagine how labor-intensive THAT was, he added, you could probably understand why he was running one small restaurant in Lincoln Park that hangs on by its fingernails, instead of a restaurant empire.
All of this is a preamble to explain as best I can why a recipe for Fresh Mint and Bean Pate in one of my stack of recently-acquired cookbooks instantly caught my fancy. It’s made with fresh fava beans, and the photo shows it generously heaped on toasted bread looking just like green hummus. Diary, I just LOVED the idea of green hummus! Sort of like Green Eggs & Ham! A hummus with a sense of humor, perhaps–a sense of style! A hummus with–could it be true–a sense of taste!
The only thing is, you just don’t see fresh fava beans in your average American supermarket. Frankly, Diary, I’d never seen a fresh one in my life, unless you count the marinated ones you can buy in the olive bar at Whole Foods. So I was kind of biding my time with that recipe lurking in the back of my head when last week I was down in Chicago’s Little India on Devon Avenue and a display of what appeared to be ginormous string beans caught my eye. The sign said these were Fresh Fava Beans. So I pounced.
The recipe comes from a little cookbook called Tapas Made Simple in which I’ve already found a number of dishes that were not only simple to make but produced surprisingly stunning results. (Tip: If you are never going to touch a fresh fava bean personally, this book is worth it for the Moroccan Chicken Kabob marinade alone.) It does involve blanching and then individually peeling the beans–about which it is extremely apologetic, noting that it is “a laborious task, but worth doing if you have the time.”
I didn’t find it laborious at all, Diary, but I have a Secret Weapon I’ll tell you about–a paring knife with a curved blade that came in the knife kit I was handed on my first day at culinary school. I had never seen one of these before, but it earned my allegiance and has now become one of my three go-to, high-use knives, besides my basic chef’s knife and my serrated knife. The curve makes it perfect for de-veining shrimp or peeling apples, for instance, and it was super-easy to skim it quickly across one seam of each fava bean and then pop the beans out of their skins (it’s how I got the beans out of their pods, as well).
Diary, I’m so happy with the discovery of this not-hummusy hummus! The mint-and-lemon combination makes it both aromatic and tangy, and the goat cheese–along with the peeling of the beans–gives it a nice creamy consistency.